When one spoke up six months ago, he was suspended
Third victim comes forward
But last month, Fresno bishop quietly put him back on the job
“This stunningly reckless move put kids at risk!” their attorney says
SNAP: “All Catholics should stop giving and demand real explanation”
Diocese is just one of a handful in the US that still refuses to expose predators
In an unusual new case, a priest who was first accused of abuse in June was suspended but put back to work one month later and is now being sued for sexually violating two California women when they were youngsters.
The overwhelmingly majority of abuse reports and litigation against Catholic officials involve clerics, crimes and cover ups from years or decades ago.
The lawsuit is made possible because of a new state law that takes effect on January 1, 2020 which will almost certainly prompt hundreds – or perhaps thousands – of civil cases against those who commit and conceal child sex crimes, especially in churches, schools, camps and day cares.
The women – Sylvia Gomez-Ray and “Jane Doe 92” - are suing Msgr. John Esquivel and the Fresno Catholic diocese for sexual abuse and seeking triple damages, a little-known provision of the new measure.
In June, Msgr. Esquivel was working at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Reedley. That same month, Gomez-Ray held an emotional news conference detailing his abuse of her in the mid-1980s at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Bakersfield when she was 17 - 18 years old.
According to news accounts and the lawsuit, the priest groped, open-mouth kissed and verbally abused Gomez-Ray after she joined the parish's youth group and became his secretary. She said her predecessor in that role had also endured sexual abuse by Msgr. Esquivel. Gomez Ray's employment at the church lasted just four months.
Doe was abused by the same cleric when she was 12 years old in his first assignment in Lemoore, California.
“Sylvia’s courage forced church staff to suspend Msgr. Esquivel,” said Dr. Joseph C. George, an attorney/psychologist, who represents the two women. “But clearly they did a short and sketchy so-called ’investigation,’ and then put a credibly accused priest back around kids. It’s outrageous.”
George has handled hundreds of childhood sexual abuse cases.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests are also highly critical of Fresno Bishop John Brennan and his colleagues.
“The Fresno church hierarchy is being irresponsible to parents and cruel to victims,” said David Clohessy, former long-time director of SNAP and a victim himself. “It’s irresponsible to quickly and quietly put an accused abuser to work with devout families and kids. And it’s cruel to tell victims ‘come forward,’ then do a brief half-hearted internal probe and put a credibly accused offender on the job again with virtually no explanation.”
In recent years, three other women told representatives of SNAP that Msgr. Esquivel sexually abused them, two at age 16. Two survivors allege that a priest at the same parish knew about Msgr. Esquivel’s sexual abuse but took no action.
Over the past 20 years, nearly all US Catholic bishops have succumbed to pressure from police, prosecutors, parents, parishioners and the public and released lists of “credibly accused” child molesting clerics. The Fresno diocese, however, has not.
“How can Bishop Brennan sleep at night knowing that every day he keeps hiding predators he’s putting kids in harm’s way,” said Clohessy. “He should release today the names of his known predators. Later, he can add more names. But instead, he passively sits tight while his hand-picked lawyers supposedly comb through old files. At best, this is intentionally negligent. At worst, it’s a self-serving strategy designed to minimize his bad public relations.”
Msgr. Esquivel was ordained in 1968 and spent his whole career in the Fresno diocese: St. Peter's in Lemoore (1969-1970), St. John Cathedral in Fresno (1970-1983 and again from 1999-2006), St. Mary in Delano (1981-1983), St. Joseph in Bakersfield (1983-1994), St. Lucy in Fowler and St. Joseph in Selma (1995-1998) and at St. Anthony in Reedley (from 2007 until at least until 2017).
He has held a number of diocesan-wide positions, working at the chancery office (diocesan headquarters).
“Those roles gave this priest ample opportunity to victimize girls and women all across the Fresno diocese for years,” Dr. George said. “We hope others who may have seen, suspected or suffered his wrongdoing will step forward, get help and file reports with the Attorney General.”
The diocese “consists of 35,239 square miles of the Southern San Joaquin Valley of California, a portion of the Sierra Nevada and some eastern valleys” and includes “all of the counties of Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, and Tulare. The total population of the diocesan region is about 2.4 million inhabitants, of whom 1,074,944 are registered Catholics,” according to Wikipedia.
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Reedley is now headed by Msgr. Robert D. Wenzinger (559 439 0124). St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Bakersfield is now headed by Fr. J. de Jesus Reynaga Amezquita and Fr. Jorge Ramirez (661 327 2740)
The diocesan headquarters is at 559 488 7400. The bishop’s executive Assistant is Mary Senteno (firstname.lastname@example.org). The director of his public relations staff is Teresa Dominguez (559 493 2850, email@example.com).
Dr. Joseph C. George is both a licensed psychology and attorney and has represented hundreds of survivors of childhood sexual assault. Dr. George and Sylvia Ray-Gomez are available for comment via phone and/or Skype.
Dr. Joseph C. George, 916 641 7300 office, 916 802 7949 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maricar A. Pascual, 916 641 7300 office, 707.342.4722 cell, email@example.comDavid Clohessy, 314 566 9790 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org